All sorts of deadlines have come and gone during the Greek debt crisis—as the basket-case nation’s European creditors repeatedly blinked and decided to grant one extension after another—unwilling to precipitate the pan-European (and possibly global) financial earthquake of a “Grexit” from the Euro.
However, it looks like this Sunday’s announced deadline—set by exasperated Eurozone commissioners after the Greeks strolled into a Tuesday crisis meeting with no proposals at all—might be the one that sticks.
As with certain other parties subjected to highly flexible deadlines, the Greek socialists have viewed each hastily-erased “line in the sand” as a sign of weakness, an invitation to press for further concessions. Those who set geopolitical deadlines really ought to give more thought to the message it sends when they are rescheduled or canceled. The Syriza government of Greece still wants to play games. It still thinks the escalating crisis among Greek citizens gives it leverage against the Europeans. Sticking to the new deadline is the only way to end their debt brinkmanship.
Actually, as the BBC notes, serious Greek proposals were supposed to be in European Union hands on Thursday, giving the ministers time to look them over before the fateful Sunday meeting. (Other sources pinpoint the precise deadline for delivering those proposals as early Friday morning.)
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras told his own parliament that such proposals would be forthcoming, but we have heard that from his government before, and their “serious proposals” turned out to be non-starter demands for debt relief, plus even more “borrowed” European money, with no serious spending restraint to make the socialist government solvent.
Even EU ministers who strongly desire keeping Greece in the Euro are delivering the sort of ominous pronouncements they will find very difficult to take back on Monday morning, when the current threat is that Greek banks will be allowed to collapse unless their government plays ball. “The Commission does not want a Grexit. Grexit would be a terrible failure and we are fighting to avoid it,” EU Economy Commissioner Pierre Moscovici told the BBC, adding that the Greeks “know what they have to do, they know what we expect.”
The Greeks might know what they have to do, but BBC analyst Chris Morris sounds a bit dubious that they are actually going to do it. “The suggestion is that [Greek Prime Minister Tsipras] will agree to many but not all of the demands for reform which have been made by Greece’s creditors,” Morris writes. “Some of them he had previously rejected. But he wants much more in return – a third bailout from the Eurozone, some sort of agreement on restructuring his country’s huge public debt, and more measures to encourage economic growth.”
Tsipras has been telling his voters they were “courageous” to vote against authority last week. His Party has been comparing the demands of creditor nations to military conquest and enslavement. How does he take all that back by giving the EU want it wants, as the final deadline arrives?
European Council President Donald Tusk declared Sunday’s meeting would be “the most critical moment in the history of the Eurozone.” Knowing that, Tsipras will see this as a moment of opportunity, not a time for Greece to submit to the European demands he campaigned on resisting.
Tusk also said this is “really and truly the final wake-up call for Greece, but also for us – our last chance,” another formulation that will give Tsipras reason to think he can slip a few more demands into his proposal package and dare his creditors to risk the integrity of the Euro by denying him.
EU commissioners have taken to warning that they have detailed Grexit plans ready to go, if an agreement is not reached. Tsipras has a few Grexit ideas, too. “With shortages of medicine turning Greece’s fiscal crisis into a humanitarian one and Russia sizing up the country as a potential ally inside the European Union, the consequences of shutting off funding to Europe’s most debt-stricken nation go far beyond the narrow economic stakes,” Bloomberg Business warns.
Bloomberg Business judges that Greece has few supporters for its profligacy within the EU at the moment, quoting Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite, saying it was time to end “party time at the expense of others in Greece,” while suggesting “Ireland, Portugal, Spain observed strict conditions for their own aid packages and are loathe to see Greece get off more easily.”
That might be oversimplifying the situation, because left-wing opposition parties in some of those countries that “observes strict conditions” are cheering the Greeks as heroic champions of “democracy vs. austerity”—i.e. irresponsibility over fiscal reality—and hoping to wage their own wars against everyone foolish enough to loan them money if Greek socialism prevails. It might be more accurate to say that austerity-supporting governments are nervous about what will happen within their own borders if Greece touches off a pan-European frenzy of socialist looting.
That danger will weigh heavily on the minds of EU commissioners when they meet Sunday to decide if they have the resolve to begin a process technically illegal under European Union law—there isn’t really any provision for either forced or voluntary separation from the Euro, so a Grexit will inescapably alter the very character of the European Union. Knowing this, Tsipras probably still thinks he has some cards to play.